The Egyptian Sharapova

Open to a shot of pink Nike shoes moving in between Velcro squares as part of an athletic drill. The scene is muted by a grayscale filter and contains a hint of background music. Close-up on a tennis racket in motion, making a volley.

Cut to sequins reflecting brightly across an adorned silver dress. The dress is seen through a mirror as its owner, Reehan Rashad, contemplates her visage in the reflection. Her voice fills the background as she narrates the commercial for the dresses’ designer.

“I like the camera,” said Reehan, a senior-year student at Queens College majoring in Media Studies.

She was born in 1995 when her father, Magid Rashad, and mother, Wafaa Mohamed, used to live in Brooklyn. Her younger brother, Kareem Rashad, joined the family five years later. Mr.Rashad worked as an accountant in downtown Manhattan, next to the World Trade Center; on September 11th, his family watched as the planes crashed into the skyscrapers.

“We moved after 9/11,” said Reehan. “My parents wanted to raise us in Egypt and the situation after 9/11 was really bad for Arabs.”

In Egypt, Reehan inherited an athletic legacy. Mr.Rashad played on the Egyptian National Field Hockey team for 13 years and Mohamed played handball in her youth. It was only natural for Reehan to play a sport, so they signed her up for the Smouha sports club in Alexandria when she was six years old. A private club with a fee upwards of 600,000 Egyptian pounds, Smouha provided different facilities for many sports. Her mom decided on tennis for her.

“You can play at any age” in tennis, said Mohamed. “She moved fast, and she loved the game.”

Mohamed used to watch her daughter practice every single day.

“My mother was pushing me really hard in the beginning,” said Reehan. “I liked the skirts and stuff, so that’s why I was playing when I was younger.”

Her motivation changed immediately after she won her first tournament at ten years old.

“When I won that trophy, I was like ‘I love this game,’” said Reehan.

Her favorite player has always been Maria Sharapova. She used to buy her clothes and emulate her on the court.

“They called me in Egypt, the Egyptian Sharapova,” said Reehan. “I do everything she does. Even my style of playing- it’s close to hers.”

Reehan convinced her brother Kareem to start playing tennis when he was five years old in spite of Mohamed’s desire to have him play basketball.

“I told him you have to play tennis,” said Reehan. “I used to take him into my room and tell him ‘no, you’re not listening to anyone else.’”

They practiced together in the smouha clubs, attended the same private schools and eventually competed together on the international level.

“Because she was playing, I liked tennis,” said Kareem.

Reehan began playing for Egypt in the International Tennis Federation Junior tournament in 2008. By 2014, both Reehan and Kareem played on the Egyptian national team as the #6 female and #2 male player in the country.

“I had my ups and downs, but I made the name,” said Reehan. “I was never an easy match for someone.”

There were 24 two-week tournaments throughout the year, 21 of those in Cairo, so the pair would always travel together to compete in Cairo.

“I lived in Cairo in the hotels more than my home,” said Reehan.

The siblings missed months of school because of tournaments.

“In Egypt if you are an athlete and you don’t have time, the professor will go ‘you want to be an athlete? Go and play tennis.’” said Kareem. “Either study or play sports. You have to choose.”

After graduating from high school, Reehan enrolled into the engineering school at Alexandria University to study architecture and construction while still playing tennis on the national level. At the time, she was also the owner of a small advertising company.

“I had a 1.8 GPA,” said Reehan. “I was managing the company and tennis very well.”

The coursework standards are more rigorous than the United States’; the University of Alexandria expected her to take seven classes each semester for five years. One late night, after hours of working to draft blueprints for one of her classes, Reehan injured her back.

“It’s very difficult to make a tennis player with education, with time, with homework,” said Mohamed.

In 2015, Reehan had a falling out with Smouha after one of the board members tried to oust her from the club in favor of her rival.

“They hung my name on the club gates saying that I can’t enter, I can’t practice,” said Reehan.

Soon after, she applied to hundreds of college tennis programs in the United States. Queens College Head Coach Alan Nagel recognized her talent and invited her to join the team.

“Here’s a girl that has played on the national level,” said Nagel. “She can be a superstar.”

She moved into the women’s tennis house and began attending Queens College in the Spring of 2016.

“I was kinda scared about this move and living alone in a different country,” said Reehan. “My first year here, I was crying every day.”

She yearned to return to Egypt, but her proud nature spurred her to prove to Smouha and her hometown that she could find success in America.

“In life, she’s a fighter,” said Kareem. “When somebody tells her you can’t do something, she’s like, ‘No, I can do it.’”

Kareem stayed in contact with her nearly every day. By 2018, they began playing side by side again after Reehan helped Kareem gain a spot on the men’s tennis team at Queens College.

“She told me how to apply to college, how to apply for my courses. Everything,” said Kareem.

Now the siblings live with their parents in a house right next to Queens College.

Reehan will soon graduate in the Spring of 2019. After graduating from Queens College, she aspires to play tennis professionally while working as a broadcast journalist in Egypt.

She has used her platform as a renowned tennis player to become an advocate for women’s rights. She has appeared on Egyptian news broadcasts to talk about the issue.

“All the channels started calling me, and they wanted to do interviews,” said Reehan. “I don’t mind. I always wanted to be famous.”

 

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